Even though top Republicans insist they’re aiming to overhaul the nation’s tax code this year, Sen. Roy Blunt, an influential GOP leader, is suggesting a far less ambitious approach that would have only a handful of changes being enacted this year.
The broader rewrite of the tax code, he is telling both House conservatives and Senate colleagues, could wait until 2019, after what’s likely to be an ugly year of political combat as Republicans try to maintain control of the House and Senate.
“In the time we have to get this done this year, we should focus on tax cuts and some reform, with more reform to come later,” Blunt, R-Mo., told McClatchy’s Kansas City Star in a statement on Thursday.
Blunt talked about the incremental approach at a private dinner last week at the Value Voters Summit, a gathering of staunch conservatives in Washington, two sources told McClatchy.
At the dinner with conservatives, his message was, “‘We ought to take what we can get now and then come back and revisit it,’’’ said a source at the event. The conservatives were not receptive.
Blunt alluded to the same multi-step strategy Thursday in a speech on the Senate floor.
“Fights that can’t be won in the next few weeks can be won in this presidential term,” he said. President Donald Trump’s term ends in January, 2021.
“If we do pass a tax bill this year,” he said, “we’ll have a chance to take a second look in 2019.”
He added, “The point I’m making....is we don’t have to do everything that could possibly be done to improve the tax code this year.”
Asked whether Blunt was acting on his own or on behalf of other GOP leaders, his office said he was speaking for himself.
Don Stewart, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s spokesman, said of Blunt’s remarks on the Senate floor, “It sounded to me like he was saying that this won’t be the last bill that we do and if anything isn’t done here, we should keep trying next year.”
McConnell, R-Ky., has been under fire this year from the White House and conservatives. They want to see more results from the stodgy Republican-run Senate, which has produced no major legislation this year. Overhauling the tax code has become a top 2017 Senate priority.
McConnell promised earlier this week, after GOP senators met privately for an hour, that the tax overhaul could be done this year.
“We’re in the same place, and the same place for the balance of the year is to complete the job on taxes,” McConnell said.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has threatened to keep the House around until Christmas if necessary.
“Hear the point I'm making,” he told reporters last week. “Half this country is living paycheck to paycheck. And if that means we've got to stay here until Christmas to give them the relief they need and deserve, then tough.”
But McConnell in the past has been regarded as a savvy vote-counter, a master tactician adept at crafting legislation that can get the votes needed to pass.
Blunt, a member of McConnell’s leadership team, described his pragmatic tax strategy to House conservatives seated at his table during the Value Voters Summit dinner. Later that evening, the senator brought it up to the entire dinner audience.
“Senator Blunt indicated that just getting something done, even if it’s small right now, is preferable, and then coming back next year to do something bigger in a two-step process is the best way to tackle something so we can show an accomplishment on behalf of the Republican majority,” said a source who attended the dinner.
The gist of Blunt’s remarks, the source added, was that “We need to go ahead and deliver on tax reform, even if we take a more measured approach now, and then do something much grander in terms of reform later.”
Seated at the table with Blunt were Reps. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, Mark Walker, R-N.C., chairman of the House Republican Study Committee, Vicky Hartzler, a Missouri Republican, and Tony Perkins, the president of the conservative Family Research Council.
The Freedom Caucus includes about three dozen of the House’s most aggressive tax-cutters. The study committee has a broader focus, but numbers about 150 House members dedicated to firm conservative principles.
Those at the dinner were surprised by Blunt’s tone, and were not supportive.
“Anything that would suggest that we are going to take a three-step approach to try to reform the tax code and that Step 1 happens now and that Steps 2 and 3 happen at a later date will not have the support of the conservatives in the House,” said Meadows.
“Our position from the very beginning is that this is real tax reform and not just tax cuts and have this thing by the end of the year,” Walker said. “In fact I think it will a great Christmas present for the American people.”
Perkins had hope that the House would act and push the Senate.
“The House does get it — at least the rank and file get it — but the Senate, I’m not sure they understand how upset the people are,” he said.